Sunday, March 22, 2009

The Zoya Factor - Anuja Chauhan

I am okay with chick-lit. It’s a genre created to meet market demand and if we were all determined to read only the classics, a lot of good writing would never get the recognition they deserve. So this is not an anti chick-lit tirade. Although I confess that I prefer my chick-lit small and sweet. The Zoya factor offers me 509 pages… value for money one would say, but not mine sadly.
If cricket is an Indian religion, then our cricketers are surely gods. But fallible gods who need a little help from ordinary mortals. The adoration of a billion fans, the lucrative advertisement deals and the demi-god status are not enough to motivate them to win.
But when the cricketers find out that Zoya, an advertising executive who is sent to work with the Indian team for a shoot, was born at the exact time and date that India won the world cup in 1983, they adopt her as a lucky mascot. Remember Rushdie’s Midnight Children? Saleem Sinai, born at the precise moment of Indian Independence at midnight on 15th August 1947?
Well, I did. And having Rushdie in mind when you read chick-lit is not ideal. So well, the book began to go downhill immediately.
There is a Mills & Boon type romance between Zoya and the Indian captain. When they are not being mushy, they spend a lot of time wondering if this is true love or if the other person is a gold digger.
Zoya is especially convoluted – first she hates the guy for not believing in her incarnation as the Goddess Luck, then she wonders if he is actually pretending not to believe in it so that she spends more time with the team determined to prove her luck and thus helping him to win. Honestly, I felt the deep desire to give her a hard knock on the head!
Just in case we dismiss the book as total chick-lit, there are various tales intertwining the main plot. Cricket statistics, ball by ball accounts of some matches, and a sub plot detailing the machinations of the evil swami (who is something less than a cliché now!).
And there is Zoya’s brother, the soldier patriot who is fighting a war at Poonch, but still manages to call his sister and advise her on her love life. Obviously with such divided focus, no one is surprised when he is injured and sent home, just in time to explain the whole plot to his reality challenged sister.
The book meanders to its expected end. A clichéd story that could have benefited from some ruthless editing is my conclusion. And yes, true to tradition, there is enough movie masala and lots of Hinglish to make into a Bollywood movie… or perhaps Hollywood is the way to go?
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  1. I share your love of Roald Dahl and Saki. I also like Mills and Boon - I collect the covers from the 1970s, though Ive never read one.

  2. I've always been uncomfortable with labels like 'chick lit'- they are rather disparaging of books about urban women. Perhaps the author felt the same?

  3. i like your line about it being perfectly movie-ready!

  4. I don't agree with your comments at all. I think this is the first coming-of-age book of the great Indian Women author (the condescending tag of 'CHICK-LIT' nothwithstanding). The characters are well rounded and completely believable - the quirks and whims are completely in place. Haven't we come across such people in our lives? What is particularly endearing is that Anuja has used the lingo we speak in - not the one we are accustomed to reading. She's thrown off the yokel of our subservience-to-the-British-English with such abandon and glee that the most fundamental, but unwritten rule for writers ('Thou shalt write English like the English for the English') lies wasted. She has opened up unlimited possibilities....